June 13th, 2016

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The Sins of Jack Saul, Above the Stag - Review

My EQView feature this week was a review of The Sins of Jack Saul at Above the Stag theatre, a fabulous new musical telling the real life story of Jack Saul, the rent boy who scandalised Victorian London. Unmissable!

My EQView review of The Sins of Jack Saul at Above the Stag Theatre can be found here:

‪Cut and pasted from the EQView website:


The Sins of Jack Saul is a new musical, currently playing at Above The Stag Theatre, which tells the true story of Jack Saul, the rent boy who scandalised Victorian London.

The story begins at the end, with Jack Saul’s death in Our Lady’s Hospice, run by the Religious Sisters of Charity – in fact one of the Nuns welcomes you into the theatre! Jack’s departed soul then encounters the Devil, who promises to commute Jack’s sentence of an eternity in Hell if Jack can show him a good deed he has done.

Jack reflects on his life, his humble origins and early life in Dublin, his rise to fame and notoriety in Victorian London as a rent boy to the Establishment (aristocracy, politicians, the military, city financiers, and the very rich), and his rapid fall from grace, back into poverty and destitution in Ireland. Jack’s life may not sound like a barrel of laughs, but his story is told in a very entertaining way, packed with songs, love and laughter, and this draws you into the musical. Jack tells his own story in his own words, and the musical empowers Jack with a voice.

Jack is born and brought up in Dublin, and the musical gives you a flavour of the tensions in that City between Catholic and Protestant, and rich and poor. Jack is a poor Catholic but a serious relationship develops with a rich Protestant soldier, Lieutenant Kirwan. They are happy and in love, but the social and class divides between them are too great. When Lieutenant Kirwan decides it is too much of a risk and he may be found out, losing his lands and wealth, the relationship ends. Jack leaves for London to seek his fortune, in search of the streets paved with gold.

When Jack arrives in London, he realizes it is not so very different from Dublin, and his opportunities are limited in the same way as they were at home. One of the professions open to him is male prostitution and so he plies his trade on the “Dilly”. Jack, showing true entrepreneurial spirit, writes his memoirs, setting down all his sexual adventures and exploits. This resulting memoir, “The Sins of the Cities of the Plain”, became an infamous work of pornography.

The musical then focuses on No 19 Cleveland Street, one of the establishments Jack was working in. Cleveland Street rose to real notoriety when, following a police raid, it was found to be employing telegraph messenger boys to provide sexual favours and sexual services, to clients including Lord Arthur Somerset (equerry to the Prince of Wales), the Earl of Euston, an MP, and numerous top military personnel. Even Prince Albert Victor Edward, “Prince Eddy”, heir presumptive and grandson to Queen Victoria, was rumoured to be a client. And Jack Saul was right at the heart of this scandal.

In the wake of this scandal, with his notoriety at its height, Jack returned to Dublin. Heart-breakingly, his mother and his brother turn their back on him, shamed by his profession. His mother dies shortly after, the shock being too much for her. She had wanted her Jack to have a respectable job, like being a butler or a gentleman’s servant, wearing white gloves and living in a big house. The reality of Jack’s London life could not have been more different. And if you want to find out the Devil’s assessment of Jack’s life, you need to see the show!

This is a musical and the songs are a lot of fun, and they enable the audience to join in and participate. They include “I always wanted a man in uniform”, “It’s a fine life on the Dilly”, “Pornography”, “A Sovereign boy” and, my personal favourite, “Poses plastique”. In what could have been a very dark story, the songs add humour, and lighten the darkness.

All the actors in the production are excellent and so it would be wrong to single out any one performer. Having said that, I am going to give a special mention to Felicity Duncan, because she plays all the female roles, everything from a Nun to Jack’s mum! Every single character she plays is fully realized and has real depth. For one actor, to bring such a wide range of characters to life, and all in the same production, is a real achievement.

Jack Saul was a real person and I appreciated and respected the way in which the musical covered all aspects of his life – his parents, his family, his first love and his work, as well as the scandals. It brought Jack fully to life, with all his hopes and dreams, highlighting his determination to succeed, his resilience, and his humour. This was an in-depth exploration of Jack’s life.

The Sins of Jack Saul is by the same creative team behind last year’s smash hit Fanny & Stella – written by Glenn Chandler, music by Charles Miller, and directed by Steven Dexter. What both productions have in common is they uncover hidden LGBT lives in Victorian London, and bring them to the stage in a memorable, entertaining and fun way, by empowering these colourful characters to tell their own life histories. Both productions stay with you after you leave the theatre, imprinted on your mind.

The Sins of Jack Saul is a fabulous new musical, telling the real life story of Jack Saul, a rent boy in Victorian London. It follows his rise and fall, from the slums of Dublin, to the bright lights of London, and back again. His name forever associated with an infamous work of pornography, and the notorious Cleveland Street Scandal, this musical enables us to get to know the man behind the myth, and lets Jack tell his own story in his own words. Unmissable!

The Sins of Jack Saul plays at Above The Stag Theatre until Sunday 12 June.

Above The Stag Theatre is an award-winning theatre in Vauxhall, London with a focus on producing LGBT-themed theatre including new writing, musicals and revivals. It is the only full-time professional LGBT theatre in the UK. Follow the link for more info: